Week 2 of Unreasonable Propositions: Afghan Idol/Entrepreneur

The original Bamyan, Afghanistan-- home of the huge, destroyed Buddhas

The great thing about youthful exuberance is that it’s so … exuberant! But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily grounded in any sort of reality, unless of course you’re talking about the dynamic young entrepreneurs of Bamyan Media, who are all about reality. Reality TV, that is. In fact, their phenomenally creative approach to inspiring social entrepreneurs around the world is what’s brought co-founder Jasmine Stine to the Unreasonable Institute Finalist Marketplace www.unreasonableinstitute.org where she’s only $2,000 away from earning her place in the Boulder sun.

Being a crotchety, old disdainer of reality TV (except when it’s a series I like, of course) my first instinct was to shudder – until I learned that Bamyan is all about producing original, competitive reality TV series in developing countries to instruct, elevate and reward social entrepreneurship in young people. What a concept!

Applicants preparing to pitch to "Dream & Achieve" judges.

Best of all, it’s a lot more than a concept. In 2008, Bamyam’s co-founder Anna Elliot produced a 13-part series, “Dream & Achieve” in Afghanistan, where it reached 7 million Afghans and became the #1 hit of the season. To attract contestants, Ann and her Afghan crew had to comb the countryside, explaining what it meant to be an entrepreneur and how to start a business.  Contestants competed weekly before the show’s expert judges, and each episode had its own theme, such as management or environmental impact. Viewers voted via text messaging for their favorite social ventures (the series was sponsored by Afghan telecommunications firms and banks) and the undeniable subtext was: being a social entrepreneur is cool.

Winner of Dream & Achieve, ex-commander turned dairy executive, Haji Ata Mohammed.

Now Bamyan’s mission is to produce similar programs in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Egypt and Mexico, showcasing the heroic power of people who are using all their creativity, talents and energy to make their communities a better place to live. Like the finalists in Afghanistan’s “Dream & Achieve” series: the winner, a former commander of the Army whose dairy refrigeration business employs ex-combatants; and the runner-up, a jam & pickle maker, who defied her family and Taliban pressure to compete, and has put hundreds of widows and refugee women to work.

The riches of a contestant's rice mill in Kunduz.

“The beauty of this idea,” Jasmine says, “is that it’s so adaptable to different countries, and different cultures.” Bamyan’s model is to bring the series to local production companies, attract and unite sponsors, and allow the contestants and judges to reflect the aspirations and needs of that culture. Considering that 700 million young people in the world are unemployed, a show that gets them to begin thinking, planning and accessing resources that could create the jobs (and solutions) the world so desperately needs is already a hit in my book.

Jasmine Stine, Anna Elliot & Lucy Lindsey = Bamyan Media

So my $100 today is going to Bamyan Media. Who needs Simon Cowell & crew when you’ve got a Jasmine Stine, Anna Elliot and Lucy Lindsey?

6 thoughts on “Week 2 of Unreasonable Propositions: Afghan Idol/Entrepreneur

  1. Oh, I love those kinds of shows! And their popularity is global! How about that. The world really is a small place, isn’t it?

  2. Great post about a great initiative.
    But the winner was not the commander. But a man from Kandahar who recycled plastic waste and dreamed of expanding his business using micro hydro power.

  3. I have had the honor to meet Lucy and think this initiative is amazing. As Jacqueline Novogratz recently said, we are the stories we tell, and this work to help people discover and share their stories is so powerful. Thanks for highlighting it!

  4. Dear Betty,
    Bless you!! I’m Anna’s mother and I can so relate to your post about their project. When I first heard this vague idea about Reality TV I too cringed. Then during the entire year when Anna was dodging suicide bombers (who blew up the Serena Hotel and cold-bloodedly murdered several people just minutes after she had decided not to stop back there to change her clothes)I hardly knew what she was up to. Yes I knew she was flying around in vintage Afghan helicopters which also terrified me but I had no idea how wonderful the project really was. Kids never tell their mothers anything! But now that it’s in the rearview mirror, I know two things: 1) I have an amazing daughter (through no intervention of my own) and 2)the kids of her generation are on to something totally new, something I never would have imagined.
    I am so proud of their creativity and especially their idealism – we parents have created such a mess of the world and I marvel at their determination to fix it.

  5. Betty –

    these are all really amazing stories – thanks so much for bringing them to light – wish there was more coverage of the whole Unreasonable Enterprise –

    take care

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